Just ask veteran DE Robaire Smith what he thinks of the 2008 Cleveland Browns and you may be in for quite a discussion. Heading into his ninth professional season, Smith, a former sixth-round draft selection of the Tennessee Titans in the 2000 draft, has been there/done that at the professional level.
Prior to signing with the Browns before the start of the 2007 season, Smith had played extensively in a defensive scheme similar to the 3-4 which is utilized in Cleveland.
"Coming to Cleveland was something I felt was a good fit for me as a player. I knew some of the guys and this was a team headed in the right direction," Robaire Smith said.
In his first season in Cleveland, Smith was part of a defense that struggled against the run and did not have great rewards getting to the quarterback. Being part of a new-look Cleveland defense heading into the 2008 season is pleasurable for the veteran from Michigan State University.
"Let me tell you what a difference it is going to be to have Shaun (Rogers) and Corey (Williams) on that line with me and Shaun (Smith). Last season was tough, we played a lot and things didn't go our way," Smith said. "With these guys here, you have to account for everybody. Just look, we are big guys, all of us that can make plays. I don't believe we are going to be in the same position we were last year."
Adding to the new-look defense comes a new defensive coordinator. Defensive backs coach Mel Tucker takes over for the departed defensive coordinator Todd Grantham in hopes of reviving a Cleveland defense that improved as the season progressed a season ago.
"Mel Tucker is a good coach. Knowing from when he was the defensive backs coach, we know what kind of coach he is, what kind of man he is and what his expectations are," Smith said. "Anytime you get a new coach, there is going to be change, with Mel he is a players coach, he will listen to what we have to say. With that you have to respect him as a man and he respects us the same.
"You like to play for a coach like Mel."
In a training camp which lends to the players working harder in shorter spurts, Tucker's defense has spent significant time on the details of what is smaller a playbook for this team. The theory behind simplifying the system is to let players make plays and less time to digest the action on the playing field.
Heading into the 2008 season, the acquisition of Rogers and Williams is expected to solidify a Cleveland defensive line that was out-gunned for numerous seasons. For players such as Rogers (Detroit) and Williams (Green Bay), the Cleveland defense is a new scheme for each, as both came from primarily 4-3 defensive scheme teams.
With the training camp portion of the off-season coming to a quick close, the Browns have nearly four-weeks to get the kinks out and prepare for the regular season opener against the Dallas Cowboys.
"We've worked hard in this camp, Mel (Tucker) has pushed us and he's been around long enough to know how much we can take. We've been working and we have had some fun in camp," Smith said. "Those guys (Shaun Smith and Shaun Rogers) like to have fun and that helps to get us where we need to be.
"Shaun and Corey know what to do, they are going to be a big part of our success."